Saturday, September 13, 2008

Leaving Urban Education....or not

This week I was certain that I just couldn't do it anymore. After 5 years of teacher, 3 in the NYC public schools, I know that I LOVE being a teacher. I really do. I love getting the kids into their routines and watching how they progress in all areas. It's so amazing when a little one feels inspired by something and can inspire others. I just love that. What bothers me is that in New York City, there is no support for teachers. And as I've said, we bear the burden of a dysfunctional system every day and sometimes, like this past week, it has been too much to bear. I can deal with a large class size, just give me support when it's time to assess. I can deal with no supplies, just acknowledge that we all buy EVERYTHING out of our own pockets.

I started looking for another job for next year (I would NEVER abandon a class after the schoolyear has started). Coming home about to burst into tears and thoroughly exhausted is no existence at all. My personal relationships suffer and I suffer. I browsed the web looking at schools in Westchester County and Long Island. My search made me sad in so many ways and although I found great schools within walking distance of MetroNorth and LIRR, I'm not sure I'll go through with applying to any of them. What I found were perfectly designed and updated websites where teachers could post lessons, newsletters, and homework as well as communicate with parents. WOW!!! I was blown away. What a contrast to my school. Many of the parents of my students are functionally illiterate, and I'm not just saying that. They need support reading the announcements the school sends out. Many people assume that just because notices are sent out in Spanish (the native or 2nd language*** of most of my children's parents) they should be able to read them. Every year, the teachers at my school help parents sign their children up for SES (Title I supplemental educational services). I often have parents come to me so I can read something or translate something for them that they have received that they can't read or don't understand. Our parent coordinator, who is amazing, gently guides parents through the 8 page application for after school programs. In fact, I was fuming on Friday when they sent out a notice on how to get free meals for your child at school during weekends. The flyer was only in English AND the only way to get the info was by visiting a website. The kids who really need it probably won't be able to access it.

Looking at these websites of suburban schools, part of me felt like I wanted that. I want a neat little school that is clean, well-funded, with educated parents who can read a website and kids who don't forget their alphabet over the summer.... but wait. What I also felt was a closed-mindedness that I don't think I'll ever be able to adapt to. I started thinking, what will my colleagues be like? Will they be so freaking inspiring in a way that you didn't think was humanly possible like the teachers at my school? What will the professional development opportunities be like? I don't want to learn only about literature circles and a new science curriculum. My interests lie with the education of language minority and immigrant children. Do you know how incredible it is to tell a parent from rural Mexico who speaks Triqui as a first language, Spanish as a second language, and cannot read or write that their child has benchmarked in first grade reading? It's so amazing. My students represent a bright future for their families and I owe it to them to keep on going. They work hard everyday and I should to.

Despite all of my stress this week, I really had a great week with the children. They are settling in to their cramped surroundings. We've found a way for everyone to fit on the rug during lessons and I have scavenged enough chairs for everyone. I have also really been trying to get them to be independent and have been trying to figure out who are my leaders, who are the kids who can help me get everyone lined up with their partners, who can help me get all the homework into their notebooks and flyers into the communication folders. I have been really stressing independence. I told them that in a big class we can learn so much because there are more ideas, but that we have to learn from each other. Just because the teacher isn't working directly with you doesn't mean you can't be learning at all times. The kids get it. They know they have to work together. They were so cute this week asking politely if someone could pass the crayons, saying please and thank you (I'm really big on manners). They have all become accustomed to greeting the teacher at the door with "good morning" or "good afternoon" after lunch. Believe me, getting them to greet was no easy task.

*** Triqui, an indigenous Mexican language is the first language of many of my students and their families.

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